Knox County Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc., Appellant-Defendant,
Melissa (Cope) Davis, Appellee-Plaintiff
from the Indiana Civil Rights Commission Docket No.
EMHA12091467 Alpha Blackburn, Commissioner Sheryl Edwards,
Commissioner Steven Ramos, Commissioner Ahmed Young,
Attorneys for Appellant Daniel Siewers Katie Kotter Hart
Bell, LLC Vincennes, Indiana
Attorney for Appellee Michael C. Healy Indiana Civil Rights
Commission Indianapolis, Indiana
Knox County Association for Retarded Citizens, Inc.
("KCARC") appeals the Indiana Civil Rights
Commission's ("ICRC") conclusion that KCARC
engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice when it
terminated Mellissa Davis' employment with KCARC. KCARC
presents two issues for our review, which we restate,
1. Whether the ICRC's conclusion that KCARC engaged in
discriminatory practices when it terminated Davis'
employment was supported by substantial evidence and
applicable law; and
2. Whether the amount of the ICRC's monetary reward to
Davis was supported by substantial evidence and applicable
We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.
and Procedural History
KCARC provides services to individuals with disabilities
including residential care, group home care, educational
assistance, and occupational assistance. Davis began working
for KCARC as a Direct Support Professional ("DSP")
on March 12, 2012. Davis worked to KCARC's satisfaction
until August 26, 2012, when Davis left work for an unknown
medical issue. The ICRC found, regarding this incident:
[8.] . . . On this day, Davis arrived to work at Group Home
11 confused and incoherent. She was unsure on how she arrived
to work that day, Davis' heart raced, and she could not
walk. Davis went to the emergency room that day to receive a
diagnosis on her health conditions. When Davis arrived to
work the next day, Supervisor Shonk informed Davis she could
not return to work without a written note from the doctor
releasing her back to work.
(App. Vol. II at 5.) Davis then sought follow-up medical
9. Davis made an appointment to see Dr. Nibel. Dr. Nibel saw
Davis on August 30, 2012. Dr. Nibel diagnosed Davis as having
a loss of consciousness or a "syncopal episode" but
was unable to determine what caused this to occur. Dr. Nibel
sent Davis back to work on August 31, 2012 to light duty.
There were no details as to what "light duty"
entailed. [Amy] O'Dell, HR Supervisor, called Davis to
get further clarification.
10. On September 7, 2012, Davis proposed [sic] O'Dell
with an additional letter from Dr. Nibel clarifying her
"light duty" restrictions. Dr. Nibel explained that
Ms. Davis was suffering from a medical condition that was
causing some dizziness and headaches. The dizziness could be
caused by bending, stooping, rapid or repetitive rotational
movements. Dr. Nibel also restricted Ms. Davis from lifting
anything heavier than ten (10) pounds. Dr. Nibel recommended
that Ms. Davis had [sic] a job that consisted of mostly
sitting but did not require Davis to be in a sitting position
for the entire eight (8) hour work day.
(Id. at 5-6.) On September 7, 2012, after conferring
with KCARC Vice President Jeff Darling, O'Dell decided to
terminate Davis because "there were no positions
available to which [sic] met with [Davis'] work
restrictions." (Id. at 47.) O'Dell
encouraged Davis to reapply for the DSP position once Dr.
Nibel lifted the restrictions on her ability to work.
On September 17, 2012, Davis filed a Complaint of
Discrimination with the ICRC. She alleged:
I believe I was discriminated against on the basis of a
perceived disability. After suffering from my disability at
work, I was sent home. When I returned to work the next day,
I was told I needed a doctor's note. I got a doctor's
note that put me on light duty until further notice, so the
doctor could do more tests to figure out what was going on
with me. I was told that since I couldn't perform all the
duties of my job while on light duty I "voluntarily
terminating" [sic] my employment.
(Id. at 17.) As part of a second pre-hearing order,
the ICRC identified the issues before it, as defined by the
parties in a conference call on April 15, 2014, as
whether (1) [Davis] had a disability or was regarded as
having a disability; (2) KCARC discriminated against [Davis]
because of the disability or perceived disability by denying
a reasonable accommodation when KCARC terminated [Davis']
employment; and (3) what remedies [Davis] may be entitled to.
(Id. at 18-19.) On September 15-16, 2015,
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Noell F. Allen
held hearings in Vincennes. The parties and the ALJ also
convened telephonically on September 30, 2015.
On April 13, 2016, the ALJ issued a Proposed Findings of
Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order ("Proposed
Order") that awarded Davis back pay damages of $25,
837.37. On April 28, 2016, KCARC filed its objections to the
proposed order. On August 26, 2016, the ICRC heard oral
argument on KCARC's objections. On December 19, 2016, the
ICRC adopted the ALJ's Proposed Order, but changed the
amount of damages to include pre-judgment interest for a
total damage award of $35, 131.46.
Standard of Review
The standard by which we review decisions from administrative
agencies is well-settled:
In reviewing an administrative decision, we must determine
"whether substantial evidence, together with any
reasonable inferences that flow from such evidence, support
the [agency's] findings and conclusions." Walker
v. Muscatatuck State Dev. Ctr., 694 N.E.2d 258, 266
(Ind. 1998). In doing so, we do not reweigh the evidence or
judge the credibility of witnesses, and we consider only the
evidence most favorable to the ICRC's findings.
McClain v. Review Bd. of Ind. Dep't of Workforce
Dev., 693 N.E.2d 1314, 1317 (Ind. 1998), reh'g
denied. However, if the question before us is primarily
a legal question, "we do not grant the same degree of
deference to the [agency's] decision, for law is the
province of the judiciary and our constitutional system
empowers the courts to draw legal conclusions."
Walker, 694 N.E.2d at 266. Thus, we review
conclusions of law to determine whether the ICRC correctly
interpreted and applied the law. M & J Mgmt., Inc. v.
Review Bd. of Dep't of Workforce Dev., 711 N.E.2d
58, 61 (Ind.Ct.App. 1999).
Zeller Elevator Co. v. Slygh, 796 N.E.2d 1198, 1206
(Ind.Ct.App. 2003), trans. denied. In McClain v.
Review Bd. of Ind. Dep't of Workforce Dev., 693
N.E.2d 1314, 1317 (Ind. 1998), reh'g denied, our
Indiana Supreme Court explained:
[An agency's] conclusions as to ultimate facts involve an
inference or deduction based on the findings of basic fact.
These questions of ultimate fact are sometimes described as
"questions of law." They are, however, more
appropriately characterized as mixed questions of law and
fact. As such, they are typically reviewed to ensure that the
Board's inference is "reasonable" or
"reasonable in light of [the Board's]
findings." The term "reasonableness" is
conveniently imprecise. Some questions of ultimate fact are
within the special competence of the Board. If so, it is
appropriate for a court to exercise greater deference to the
"reasonableness" of the Board's conclusion. . .
. In evaluating this conclusion, if no proposition of law is
contravened or ignored by the agency conclusions, the
"reasonable" inference standard gives deference to
the agency determination. However, not all ultimate facts are
within the Board's area of expertise. As to these, the
reviewing court is more likely to exercise its own judgment.
In either case the court examines the logic of the inference
drawn and imposes any rules of law that may drive the result.
That inference still requires reversal if the underlying
facts are not supported by substantial evidence or the logic
of the inference is faulty, even where the agency acts within
its expertise, or if the agency proceeds under an incorrect
view of the law.
Applicability of Indiana Administrative Code
As an initial matter, we address the applicability of the
portion of the Indiana Administrative Code ("IAC")
relevant to disability discrimination in employment, which is
dedicated to "implement[ing] IC 22-9-5 that requires
equal employment opportunities for qualified individuals with
disabilities." 910 IAC 3-1-1 (2013). Indiana Code
section 22-9-5-27, which grants the ICRC the authority to
adopt rules regarding employment discrimination against
disabled people, states: "These rules must not be in
conflict with the provisions of the federal rules adopted
under the employment discrimination provisions of the federal
Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12101 et
seq)." Ind. Code § 22-9-5-27.
In their briefs, both parties cite to the IAC and the Code of
Federal Regulations ("CFR"),  the corresponding
federal administrative rules, interchangeably. However, the
most recent CFR sections conflict with their IAC counterparts
to an extent that renders the provisions of the IAC invalid.
Since its codification in 1990, the ADA has undergone several
revisions, the most extensive being the ADA Amendments Act of
2008 ("ADAAA"). When Congress passed the ADAAA, it
explicitly indicated it wished to abrogate two United States
Supreme Court cases: Sutton v. United Air Lines,
Inc., 527 U.S. 471 (1999), and Toyota Motor
Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184
(2002). Pub. L. No. 110-325(2) (2008). Congress
acted because the Court had too narrowly interpreted the ADA,
specifically regarding whether a condition substantially
limits one or more of a person's major life activities.
Id. Thus, the ADAAA was intended to broaden the
definitions used to determine whether a person is disabled.
First, the ADAAA changed the list of "major life
activities" that could be affected by a person's
condition. Id. In 2001, "major life
activities" were "functions such as caring for
oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing,
speaking, breathing, learning, and working." 29 C.F.R.
§ 1630.2(i) (2001). In 2012, the definition of
"major life activities" was amended to include, but
not limit the applicable activities to: "[c]aring for
oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating,
sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting,
bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading,
concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with
others, and working." 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i)(1)(i)
Second, the ADAAA amended the requirements for determining if
a condition "substantially limits" a person's
performance of a major life activity. Pub. L. No. 110-325(2)
(2008). In 2001, the CFR provided:
The following factors should be considered in determining
whether an individual is substantially limited in a major
(i) The nature and severity of the impairment;
(ii) The duration or expected duration of the impairment; and
(iii) The permanent or long term impact, or the expected
permanent or long term impact of or resulting from the
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(2)(i)-(iii) (2001). But in 2012,
that same section of the C.F.R. stated, in response to the
(j) Substantially limits -
(1) Rules of construction. The following rules of
construction apply when determining whether an impairment
substantially limits an individual in a major life activity:
(i) The term "substantially limits" shall be
construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the
maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.
"Substantially limits" is not meant to be a
(ii) An impairment is a disability within the meaning of this
section if it substantially limits the ability of an
individual to perform a major life activity as compared to
most people in the general population. An impairment need not
prevent, or significantly or severely restrict, the
individual from performing a major life activity in order to
be considered substantially limiting. Nonetheless, not every
impairment will constitute a disability within the meaning of
(iii) The primary object of attention in cases brought under
the ADA should be whether covered entities have complied with
their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred,
not whether an individual's impairment substantially
limits a major life activity. Accordingly, the threshold
issue of whether an impairment "substantially
limits" a major life activity should not demand
(iv) The determination of whether an impairment substantially
limits a major life activity requires an individualized
assessment. However, in making this assessment, the term
"substantially limits" shall be interpreted and
applied to require a degree of functional limitation that is
lower than the standard for "substantially limits"
applied prior to the ADAAA.
(v) The comparison of an individual's performance of a
major life activity to the performance of the same major life
activity by most people in the general population usually
will not require scientific, medical, or statistical
analysis. Nothing in this paragraph is intended, however, to
prohibit the presentation of scientific, medical, or
statistical evidence to make such a comparison where
(vi) The determination of whether an impairment substantially
limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to
the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures. However, the
ameliorative effects of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses
shall be considered in determining whether an impairment
substantially limits a major life activity.
(vii) An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a
disability if it would substantially limit a major life
activity when active.
(viii) An impairment that substantially limits one major life
activity need not substantially limit other major life
activities in order to be considered a substantially limiting
(ix) The six-month "transitory" part of the
"transitory and minor" exception to "regarded
as" coverage in § 1630.15(f) does not apply to the
definition of "disability" under paragraphs
(g)(1)(i) (the "actual disability" prong) or
(g)(1)(ii) (the "record of" prong) of this section.
The effects of an impairment lasting or expected to last
fewer than six months can be substantially limiting within
the meaning of this section.
29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1)(i)-(ix) (2012).
Two years after the ADA was enacted, Indiana enacted statutes
addressing employment discrimination against disabled people.
P.L. 111-1992, Sec. 4 (1992). The legislature granted
authority to the ICRC to adopt rules regarding employment
discrimination against disabled people but required:
"These rules must not be in conflict with the provisions
of the federal rules adopted under the employment
discrimination provisions of the federal Americans with
Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq)." Ind. Code
§ 22-9-5-27. The ICRC enacted the relevant portions of
the IAC in 1998. Since 1998, the ICRC has
"readopted" these provisions in 2005, 2007, and
The latest version of the IAC defines a 'major life
activity' as "a function, such as the following: (1)
Caring for oneself. (2) Performing a manual task. (3)
Walking. (4) Seeing. (5) Hearing. (6) Speaking. (7)
Breathing. (8) Learning. (9) Working." 910 IAC §
3-2-9 (2013). This language tracks the 2001 version of 29
C.F.R. § 1630.2(i). See supra ¶ 9. The
latest IAC provision regarding 'substantial
The following factors should be considered in determining
whether an individual is substantially limited in a major
(1) The nature and severity of the impairment.
(2) The duration or expected duration of the impairment.
(3) The permanent or long term impact, or the expected
permanent or long term impact, of or resulting ...